Top 10 inspirational women in UK construction

Construction Digital takes a look at 10 inspirational women leading the UK construction industry, and how they are driving positive change at all levels

With US$10tn spent on construction-related goods and services each year, the construction industry is a continuously expanding market that is expected to reach US$18.96tn in market value by 2024. 

Despite its growth and efforts to challenge stereotypes and shift perceptions, only 15% of roles in the UK industry are held by women, with even fewer holding tool jobs. It is clear that despite the positive change, there is still more to be done to close the gaps. 

In this Top 10 Construction Digital breaks down the NFB’s ‘Women in Construction Top 100 Influencers’, taking a look at 10 inspirational women leading the construction industry and the ways in which they are driving positive change. 

“At the NFB we support all of the industry and showcase excellence where possible. It is therefore fundamental to open these awards to the whole of construction and not just NFB members, this will help showcase the amazing work being undertaken to affect change throughout construction.  We believe this is crucial in breaking down stereotypes and highlighting that diversity is important for people currently in the industry but also for encouraging potential recruits that construction is both a viable and rewarding career,” commented Danny Clarke, Commercial Director at NFB. 

Nicola Bird

Nicola Bird

Founder and CEO of AccXel, Nicola Bird has been operating in the construction industry for more than 13 years. Believing that “anything is achievable if you work hard, have self-belief and the support of others around you,” Bird is the sole female Director at her family construction firm - K W Bell Group. 

Bird is a successful entrepreneur, with a Master's Degree in Construction Safety Management from the University of South Wales, and a Post Graduate Certificate in Leading Business from the University of Gloucestershire.

Bird’s vision for her business includes ‘support people to construct the future’. She plans to revolutionise construction education; attract people to the industry; develop and upskill people; make the industry an aspirational career; attract diversity into the industry; and make AccXel a replicable model for nationwide benefit.

Kelly Cartwright 

Kelly Cartwright

Owner and Director of Core Recruiter Ltd, Kelly Cartwright provides recruitment services to the building and construction services. With her simple approach to recruitment, Core Recruiter is committed to supplying good quality temporary and permanent workers to clients within our area of operation regardless of the time of day. 

Described by her peers as having impeccable industry knowledge and passion, Cartwright is committed to breaking stereotypes to change the perception of ‘gender roles’. “The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome is being a woman in a man’s world,” Stated Cartwright. 

A powerful and inspirational woman, Cartwright leads the team at Core Recruiter setting the standards of the business, living and breathing the ethos, and inspiring her team to go the extra mile. With more than 20 years of combined experience in construction, Core Recrutier is resilient, determined, and ambitious.  

Alison Cox

Alison Cox

A people-focused leader, committed to building highly effective teams to deliver complex projects and operations, Alison Cox’s career has been strongly intertwined with Sir Robert McAlpine. Cox’s career spans more than 30 years of building experience in technically-innovative, high-profile, architect-driven projects. Her in-depth knowledge of the UK construction sector underpins her clear-sighted business leadership. 

Today Cox is a Domestic Bursar at St John’s College in Cambridge, UK. She is also a Chartered Civil Engineer and Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers CEng FICE, as well as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building FCIOB, a Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, and Visiting Fellow (Dummett Fellowship) New College, Oxford.

Adrienne Gawne-Cain

Adrienne Gawne-Cain

An innovative designer, Adrienne Gawne-Cain founded Cain Architects in 2015 following over a decade of working on award-winning projects. The UK company delivers a high-quality, sustainable, and contemporary architecture that is designed to last. 

Offering architectural services from the initial development to the final handover of a building and beyond, Cain Architects specialises in bespoke, creative solutions to projects with a sensitive site, a specialist client, or a demanding brief. “We are innovative yet efficient designers with outstanding attention to detail and excellent project management skills. This balance ensures that we are a practice clients return to time and time again,” said Cain Architects. 

Gawne-Cain’s career spans more than 20 years in the construction industry. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma in Construction from the University of Sheffield, and an Examination in Professional Practice: Architecture RIBA 3, Architecture from London Metropolitan University. 

Hattie Hasan MBE

Hattie Hasan MBE

Leaving a career in teaching in 1990, Hattie Hasan became one of the first women plumbers in the UK. In 2006, she set bold ambitions to help enable any woman wishing to be a plumber to be one, pledging to “create an army of women plumbers who would travel to the places where global water management is an issue.”

Being an entrepreneur, public speaker, and business leader, Hasan has dedicated herself to providing a platform for women, embodying a ‘just do it’ attitude. In 2020 she received royal recognition when she was awarded an MBE for services to women in the plumbing and heating industries.

During COVID-19, Hasan set up The Register of Tradeswomen CIC in response to the rise in women enduring domestic abuse. The aim is to connect customers with tradeswomen, increase the numbers of tradeswomen and empower survivors of domestic abuse to train in trades.

Rebecca Lovelace

Rebecca Lovelace

Founder of Building People CIC, Rebecca Lovelace’s career spans more than 25 years. By founding Building People CIC, Lovelace is ‘joining the dots for an equitable, diverse and inclusive built environment sector’. 

Building People CIC, aspires to be the hub for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the built environment to make it easier for people to find knowledge, opportunities, and support for a more diverse range of talent. 

Lovelace is an expert in creating connections between people and organisations, and enabling collaboration across multiple stakeholders for an equitable, diverse, and inclusive built environment. Lovelace is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and holds an MSc in Urban Regeneration.

Roni Savage

Roni Savage

A leader in the construction industry, Roni Savage believes that compassion and empathy; Integrity; and the ability to listen and respect others' opinion is what makes a good leader.

Bringing more than 20 years of experience to the table, Savage Founded Jomas Associates in 2009 with the vision to be respected for never compromising on quality, while providing remarkable customer service, with a focus on value engineering and people. 

As part of being a leader, Savage wants to be inspirational for others and break down stereotypes, when she founded Jomas Associates she was reluctant to show her face. Contemplating this choice, she found that it was because there was no one that looked like her in the industry, “At that point, I discovered I had this opportunity to be that person people saw. If I had to start again, I would be bolder from day one.”

Savage holds a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree, she is also a Chartered Geologist and a Chartered Engineer, as well as a specialist in land condition and a fellow of the Institute of Civil Engineers.

Mandy St John Davey 

Mandy St John Davey

Mutli-award-winning property entrepreneur, Mandy St John Davey is a National Mentoring Champion for the Association of Women in Property. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, specialising in residential property, renovations, and buy to lets, St John Davey is the Founder and Owner of Designed by Mandy Interior Design and Director and Owner of TBM Properties Ltd.

With her vast knowledge and experience St John Davey has been in the media several times discussing property, construction, general SME, and women’s issues both on TV, in print, and online. St John Davey holds a PGC Mentoring for Entrepreneurial Practice from the University of South Wales.

Helen Redfern

Helen Redfern

Helen Redfern’s career spans more than 20 years in the HR industry. Today, Redfern is the Chief People Officer at Kier Group. Joining the company back in 2012 she redefined the HR function, launching career development programmes for 11,000 employees, introduced industry-leading family-friendly policies, created the Kier Inclusion Network, and rolled out Expect Respect - a campaign reinforcing the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

On her appointment as Chief People Officer, Redfern said: “Over the last ten years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some fantastic teams who have pioneered change within Kier and across the construction industry. I am proud of what we have achieved, breaking down barriers and providing people opportunities to develop, further their learning, progress, and importantly thrive. In this new role, I’m looking forward to continuing to drive forward positive change to truly make a difference to our people, wider society and the planet.”

Una McCabe 

Una McCabe

For more than 20 years of her career, Una McCabe was a professional Social Worker in family and childcare. Applying this empathic mindset to the world of construction, McCabe, today, is a Mentoring and Support Officer at Manufacturing & Engineering Growth & Advancement (MEGA), an industry-led collaborative network.

Passionate about the empowerment of females and their engagement in the world of construction, engineering and tech industries, McCabe previously led the #NotJustForBoys initiative alongside Women's Tec delivering education and training to females in non-traditional trades. 

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